AITOR KARANKA claims Middlesbrough will head into the close season in a better position than they were when he arrived on Teesside in November – but admits he will have to significantly increase his side’s goal threat if they are to challenge for promotion next season.
Having inherited a team that slipped to 19th position when they lost at Elland Road in his first game in charge, Karanka will end the campaign with Boro in 12th if they win at bottom club Yeovil in tomorrow’s final fixture.
In his first few months in charge, the Spaniard prioritised improving his side’s defensive capabilities and a record of 13 clean sheets since Boxing Day suggests he has established some strong foundations that should provide a decent base to build from next season.
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At the other end of the field, however, Boro have been found lacking, with January and February’s run of seven successive matches without a goal highlighting failings that are still apparent despite an improved return in the last month or so.
With Danny Graham due to return to Sunderland, and major question marks over Lukas Jutkiewicz’s future as he returns from a loan spell of his own at Bolton, there is a pressing need to recruit at least one new centre-forward this summer.
Karanka has already helped identify a number of potential targets, with Leeds’ Ross McCormack understood to be at the top of the list, and accepts that improving his side’s attacking line-up is the next challenge that will have to be overcome.
“I think we are in a better position now than we were when I first came to the club in the autumn,” said the Boro boss. “I feel as though we have made progress. With the work I have done so far, I think we have got ourselves into a decent position to start planning for next season “When I came in, the first thing I saw was that we were conceding a lot of goals and that was costing us. That was my first knowledge about the team. It was obvious we had to do something about that, and I think it improved.
“Next season, we have to make sure those changes don’t disappear, but the next job now is to improve the number of goals. We have fixed a lot of the mistakes, but we went seven games without a goal and you can’t do that.
“The next step is to find a way of scoring more goals, but in doing that, we can’t lose what we have fixed so far. We need to be able to do both.”
None of Boro’s strikers have reached double figures this season, with Albert Adomah topping the goalscoring charts with 12.
Graham has impressed in patches, but neither Kei Kamara nor Curtis Main has enjoyed a sustained spell of success when they have been in the team.
Leicester and Burnley, the two sides to have secured automatic promotion, boast two different strikers with more than 15 goals apiece, and it is exceptionally difficult to challenge for a top-two spot if you do not have at least one centre-forward threatening the 20-goal a season mark.
Boro’s recruitment team will attempt to address that in the transfer market this summer, but Karanka is keen to enhance his side’s goal threat from a number of areas next season, rather than rely on whichever player is wearing the number nine shirt.
“The strikers can be the hardest part of the team to get right because it is the position that everybody wants,” he said. “Everybody wants a striker who will score a lot of goals, but for me, it is more important to have a team.
“I prefer to have five or six players scoring goals than just one player scoring a lot of goals because if you miss that player, the team really suffers. I prefer to build a team.”
With that in mind, Karanka readily identifies Burnley as the club he would like to emulate next season, with the Clarets having secured automatic promotion despite having a smaller wage bill than a majority of sides in the division and lacking a glut of what might be termed star names.
“For me, Burnley is the example to follow,” he said. “They are a very good team, even though they don’t necessarily have any stars.
“As a coach, the main thing you want is to have a good team, that plays like a team. They got promoted, but kept winning in the same way.
“They haven’t been playing for anything in the last few matches, but they have kept on winning the games, and that says a lot about the spirit they have there. I want my players to have the same mentality.”